North East Liberal Democrat MSP Mike Rumbles delivered a damning speech on the SNP’s mishandling and lack of ambition for the rural economy, in the Scottish Parliament today (Wed 6th).
Mr Rumbles highlighted the Scottish Government’s utter failure to get to grips with the farm payments crisis over the past two years. The North East MSP’s view of the First Minister’s Programme for Government was also scathing, siting the lack of any plan to support and grow the rural economy through Brexit and beyond.
Mr Rumbles said: “The Scottish Government have shown a complete lack of ambition for Scotland’s rural communities and no plan whatsoever to deal with the challenges of Brexit for our rural economy.
“Our unique and famous produce is known the world over for its high quality. You would think that developing the opportunities available to our rural economy would a priority for the First Minister and her government, but apparently not.
“Instead, this inept administration has plunged many rural communities into chaos though mismanagement and being too distracted to get on with the day job.
“I am very disappointed, but not surprised, that the First Minister has abandoned all her hopes of getting rural communities back on side. Unfortunately, it will be our towns, villages, and small businesses that will suffer all the more for her lack of ambition.”
Notes for editors:
- Mike Rumbles MSP, speech in chamber of the First Minister’s Programme for Government 2017:
I welcome the opportunity today to focus on the Programme for government as it effects the Rural Economy.
Without doubt the last couple of years have seen real problems for our rural economy as a result of the complete mis-handling of the £500million European funding which should have been paid out to our rural businesses on time.
Last year, Richard Lochead failed to deal with this issue adequately to say the least. It was quite obvious to all concerned that he was unable to manage his department effectively as our farm businesses continued to be denied their funding on time.
In comes his successor, Fergus Ewing - full of good intentions - a ‘white knight to the rescue’. Indeed, weren’t we all impressed when in his first speech in this chamber after taking over from Richard Lochead he apologised to the rural community and said that “this will not happen again”! It was to be his number one priority to fix. It was an unacceptable situation which was not to be repeated.
Well, over one year on and here we are again.
Well, not only did our rural businesses not receive their funding in December, the 95% figure for payments by the end of June were not reached either.
Oh, I can hear SNP MSPs saying ‘what about the loans’? Yes, well what about the loans. In his own defence Fergus Ewing is proud of the fact that instead of paying out to our farm businesses their entitlement on time he organised loans for them from the Scottish government, and indeed he paid these loans out ahead of the normal December round.
The problem here is that our farmers are so worried about the incompetence of the Scottish government that they were very wary of these loans and the take up of them has been dreadful. So dreadful in fact that up to £200 million of the £500 million of the money that should have been injected into our rural economies last December went missing.
This is money our rural communities can ill afford to let go by.
My point is that this money which should have gone to our farm businesses should have been available to be spent in our rural towns and villages across the country.
No, Fergus Ewing’s record on this, his number one priority is lamentable. Quite frankly it’s as bad as his predecessors, and if Richard Lochead had to go then surely the Minsters coat is indeed hanging on shoogly peg!
I listened carefully to the First Minister when she opened this debate on her programme for government. She said absolutely nothing about the problems facing our rural economy.
It did not fill me with confidence that things for our rural communities are going to get any better over the next year.
As soon as the result of last year’s European referendum became clear, that we are leaving the European Union I argued that the Scottish government needed as a matter of urgency to engage with stakeholders to develop a new strategy for financial support to our farming sector.
Indeed, it took until January this year for Fergus Ewing to indicate that he would do this when he accepted my amendment in a debate in this chamber which called for the setting up of a group of experts to develop such a strategy.
It turns out however that not much is being done.
In the event we leave the EU the Scottish Government must be ready with a bespoke system of agricultural support tailored to the needs of Scottish farming rather than simply be content to administer the Common Agricultural
Policy, a policy designed to aid farming across Europe.
Where is the evidence that work is being done to design a bespoke system to meet the needs of Scotland? I would have thought that the SNP administration would be ‘first off the blocks’ with this one but no, we just meander along as usual.
When I keep raising this with Fergus Ewing all he does is deflect my questioning by attacking the UK government for its lack of clarity on future arrangements.
While this lack of clarity is indeed true, it doesn’t make up for the fact that there is a complete lack of action on Fergus Ewing’s part in designing a new system fit for purpose for Scotland.
I would say to the First Minister, that has she noticed how lacking in ambition her Rural Economy Minister is?
Is she content to witness the complete lack of forward thinking demonstrated by Fergus Ewing on the future of Agricultural support in Scotland?
If she is content than I can only surmise that she is ignorant of what is required.
If this is the best that can be done for our rural economy, then heaven help us.
I make no apologies for focussing my time in this debate on the Scottish government’s failures in supporting our rural economy. I could have said a lot more on the SNP’s other failures but time is short.
The one thing that could be done now for our rural economy is for Fergus Ewing to actually show some forward thinking and design a bespoke system for the future of Agricultural support in Scotland.
How long do we have to wait?